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Journal of Welsh religious history


Vol. 1 New series 2001

The Roman Catholic Church and evangelism in twentieth-century Wales

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for the re-formation of the diocese of Menevia in 1895 and the appointment of
Mostyn as its bishop was, after all, that 'the idea of a Welsh diocese, a Welsh
bishop, and a bilingual clergy would not only make a special appeal to Welsh
Catholics, but would break down prejudice and encourage a sympathy in the
non-Catholic Welsh, and so open the way to conversions' .61 In 1904, Bishop
Mostyn established St Mary's College at Holywell as a junior seminary to
train future priests in the Welsh language and Welsh cultural matters. Ten
years later, and with the encouragement of Leo XIII,62 he also welcomed two
members of the Order of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate from Quimper,
Brittany 'who, after having learned the Welsh language, would undertake in
that idiom the evangelization of the Welsh people' .63 Fr G. M. Trebaol worked
at Llanrwst in the Conwy valley, north Wales,64 while Fr Merour was based at
Blaenau Ffestiniog, and then at Pwllheli.65
In 1936, Bishop McGrath re-opened St Mary's College in Aberystwyth
after it had been closed two years earlier due to a lack of finance.66 Again the
aim was to train future priests to speak Welsh. McGrath was also to welcome
the Passionist Order's new Welsh study house at St Davids, Pembrokeshire,67
and a Redemptorists' foundation dedicated to evangelism in Welsh at
Machynlleth.68 Roman Catholics, it was written at this time, 'were approaching
the conversion of Wales through the Welsh language, as they recognised there
was little hope of doing so except through the native tongue'.69 In 1948, at the
beginning of his incumbency, even the English bishop John Petit insisted that
if the conversion of Wales was ever to become a fact, the Welshman must be
approached as a Welshman and 'not as some kind of hybrid Englishman, which
he is not'.70 By 1960 all Church students in the Diocese of Menevia were
expected to have some proficiency in the Welsh language.71
There were, however, some Catholics who maintained that the use of
the Welsh language alone, whether in preaching, singing, or prayer, would not
win the people of Wales over to the faith. It was just as imperative to be able
to preach, sing, and pray in a Welsh manner. 'The whole religion of this
country,' claimed Henry Bailey Hughes, the nineteenth-century Welsh-speaking
priest, 'seems to consist in the tonic sol-fa; so I must even go with the tide and
set them singing the Christian doctrine.and so fight Methodism with its own
weapons. I believe we shall convert Wales better by singing than by
preaching.'72 As bishop of Menevia, Mostyn reiterated the importance of
congregational hymn-singing. 'We are living in a land which has been truly
styled a "land of song" he wrote, 'and most of us have heard the magnificent
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